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Posted on Apr 21, 2005 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Downfall (aka Der Untergang) – Movie Review

Armchair General

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OVERVIEW

Set during the final explosive days of the Third Reich, Downfall, or, to give it the original German title Der Untergang, is an epic depiction of the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of Hitler’s reign of terror in Europe. Written and Produced in Germany itself by Bernd Eichinger, the film is a graphic depiction of the collapse of law and order within Berlin, and the final headlong journey to insanity and suicide undertaken by the Nazi Fuhrer.

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the film is the story of 22-year old Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), Hitler’s Secretary from 1942 to the end of his life. The film opens with a brief prologue in November 1942 at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s field headquarters in Eastern Prussia, where Frau Junge is accepted as Hitler’s aide, but the action quickly jumps to April 1945 as she is rudely awoken within Hitler’s Bunker by Russian artillery fire hitting the very centre of Berlin above their heads. The Soviet Army has arrived in the outskirts of the German capital and the end is nigh for the evil that is Nazi Germany. Being one of Hitler’s closest entourage, Frau Junge witnesses the dramatic events that unfold at first hand as society around her collapses, senior members of the Party and Army commit suicide and the Bunker rapidly fills with corpses.

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Downfall is also the story of 13-year old Peter (Donevan Gunia). A member of the Hitler Youth, Peter is one of the last desperate defenders of Berlin, charged with protecting the centre of the city along with his volunteer Volkssturm companions whilst the advancing Red Army swiftly encircles the capital. A proud follower of the Nazi creed, when the film opens, Peter has already destroyed two Russian Tanks and is rewarded personally by his Fuhrer for services rendered to the Reich. And yet, despite his devotion to Hitler, once Peter sees his friends dying one by one in a pointless and totally inadequate defence of Berlin, this young man must make a choice between life or death.

Another character caught up in the madness is the army medic Doctor Schenck (Christian Berkel). Desperate to save as many people as possible, and despite the apparent desire of the SS to abandon the civilians to their own fate, Schenck defies the orders of his superiors and remains within the city to assist the population. The film follows Schenck’s journey through the ruined city and ultimately, sees him arrive at the Bunker during Hitler’s final hours of life.

But in the main, this film is of course the story of Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz) and his immediate subordinates as they cower in the Bunker beneath the Chancellery. As the Fuhrer plots and schemes in his bolt-hole, he sees only conspiracy and betrayal all around him, constantly accusing his Generals of being cowardly or traitorous as they report that they are unable to carry out massive counter-attacks against the Russians closing in all around them. In reality, Hitler is relying on Armies and Divisions that exist only in his mind or on paper, little appreciating the fact that these units are incapable of action or already encircled by the enemy themselves.

As artillery and rocket fire shakes the Bunker to its very foundations, the scene is set for a fascinating glimpse at the end of an evil regime that has brought disaster upon itself.

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Picture taken from the official website, Swiss-born Bruno Ganz plays Adolf Hitler.

COMMENTS

Downfall is a truly stunning film that faithfully recreates, in intricate detail, many first-hand accounts of the last days in Hitler’s Bunker. With a masterful portrayal of the evil dictator, Bruno Ganz dominates every scene in which he appears. This is, without a doubt, the finest portrayal of Adolf Hitler that I have ever seen. Ganz snarls and shouts his way through much of the script in a totally believable manner, and yet he is also capable of portraying a quieter, more reflective Hitler as he ponders his life and what little future he has. Some critics have decried Downfall for making Hitler appear "more Human", however this is not a criticism that I accept. Although it is true that Downfall shows how devoted and attached Hitler’s subordinates have become to him and his cause, the sheer evil emanated by the Fuhrer as he denounces "international Jewry" and decides that the German people are not worthy to survive without him ensures that his obvious insanity seeps through every pore.

Hitler gesticulates madly at all who fail him, constantly calling for revenge or announcing executions of those whom he regards as traitorous. At other times, we see the brooding side of Hitler, wrapped up in his own little world as he surveys a vast model of a reconstructed Berlin. "This was my dream" he mutters, almost to himself "and it still is", still talking of his "vision" and refusing to accept that this is the end. At one point, the Fuhrer even ludicrously proclaims that the bombing and artillery strikes against his capital will simply make it easier to rebuild – as if it is all for the best.

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Picture taken from the official website, Josef Goebbels’ children entertain the Fuhrer in the Bunker.

At one stage, Hitler announces that he is preparing a "relentless and almighty assault" against his enemies, only later to appear dejected and forlorn as all seems lost, refusing to issue orders to those "unworthy" of his leadership. Later still, Hitler announces that the armies closing in on Berlin are now in a massive trap of his own devising. Leaping from depression to optimism once he has "managed the situation" Hitler speaks of an enormous pincer movement which will annihilate the Russians encroaching on the capital and proudly announces that very soon, the Luftwaffe will be restored to its former glory as "thousands of jets" become available.

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